By Susannah Chovnick
I’ve avoided writing this for a year. Not because I was putting this off on purpose, I just wanted to believe I felt nothing. But I don’t know how to feel nothing without feeling sad. So in a way I’ve felt nothing and sad for a long time now. I didn’t want to feel anything, because I only dated Simon for a few months, it’s true; only a few short months. I didn’t think I deserved to feel anything. I knew his plan from the beginning; he was to quit work and leave the country by the end of the summer.
His desk was just down the hall from mine. We’d sneak up to the office bar in the afternoons. I kissed him in his desk chair once or twice; we made out on the front lobby PacMan machine, too. I regretted that, because it was too hard to play after he was gone.
His last night in the city, we don’t plan on saying bye. But I find myself in West Oakland, only a couple blocks from his house. I’m with my friend Araav, a handsome Indian man with a butt crack that hangs out sometimes, and at this moment, relaxing with a speck of cream cheese on his left cheek. We have spent the afternoon trying to write stand-up comedy, a shared hobby of ours. But it’s getting later and I don’t want to think about how I’ve written hardly anything. So I call Simon and tell him I’m in West Oakland with Araav.
Araav runs an open mic for aspiring comics down in The Mission, in a dusty bar that sort of looks pirate-themed, with barrels and red candles and small circular windows that even in the daytime keep the place dark. I used to do the mic every Tuesday. One time, a few co-workers stopped by, Simon leading the way. I almost took my name off the list when I saw them stumble in. I did take it off. But Araav called me up anyways. The light hit my eyes, I shook his hand, and took the mic. I didn’t want them here. I thought of a mother reading a journal: a private moment suddenly childish and exposed to people not meant for it.
It was a moment of sped-up words, sweaty hands and oil glistening off my forehead, all for three drunk guys who would throw up my jokes along with too much whiskey within the hour. I felt embarrassed by the clear, conformed privilege of my co-workers in nice jeans, gold watches, texting on apple phones. They stood in the dusty bar next to people who would never work a corporate job in their lives, but drove Lyfts and worked in pizza shops and bars, anything to support the hours and attention needed to fulfill their dreams.
But of the three of them, Simon stood out. Simon was decorated with a blue skull tattoo over his belly. He had palm trees down his legs, a black hawk on his right arm, his sister’s name in Korean on his left wrist. He was leaving the office job world behind. He knew what it meant to have a thirst for something more.
Our first date, a cigarette hung from his lips as he ran to meet me, while I ducked by a large truck, rushing towards him. Our eyes met. Was this a date? He kissed me—it was. But this isn’t about that time, or any other times, just that last day when I was trying to write in his neighborhood and he picked me up from the cafe and drove us to get sushi.
At the restaurant, I look off to the side, past him, down at the pink rug and listen to light harp music playing in the speaker above us. It’s like any place you’ve been, with soy sauce on each table, and a waitress in all black wearing an apron around her waist, and images of large goldfish next to images of grass and birds flying.
I look into his eyes and wonder what I’m doing here. I see him as sand slipping through my fingers; maybe some of it will linger. Maybe it’ll be gone after a shower. I’ll probably never see him again. But I can’t think of him as the past yet, for now he’s still the guy I can lie in bed with all day, his body sleeping on me, crushing me in the best way possible, who texts me whenever I want to look down and see his name, who takes me to Champagne and pizza lunches, who strolls down the beach with me and picks me up near the small waves so my feet don’t get wet, who’s there on Saturdays when my other friends are busy.
But it’s his choice to go off on his way, completely across the world, biking through New Zealand for a year. It was his plan all along, and I’m just a cold drink along the way.
It’s easier to dive into people and feelings maybe, when you know they’re fleeting, when you force yourself over and over again to live in the moment. But it doesn’t hurt any less when it ends. Just because you know the ground’s there doesn’t mean you don’t get bruised when you fall. It’s still hard and made of cement, no way around it.
So there you have it. I admit it, it hurt when things ended with Simon. Don’t get me wrong, I got over it, I think, but all of it was real, okay? Every kiss and nice word took me away from the streets of homeless people and uncertain career choices, and boredom, and long, crowded bus rides in the morning and too many showers overcompensating for lack of affection and friends. And falling back out of the clouds and into each shove and push of strangers without the distraction of hearts in your eyes that lets you accept it all, and even smile in the midst of it all. Falling back out of it—is maybe how a baby feels when it leaves the warmth of a padded, breathing, calm cushion that’s been surrounding it for months. It takes adjusting to. And when you cry, it’s okay, because you’re proving to the world you’re alive.
Susannah Chovnick is a Brooklyn native who has always enjoyed writing. In 2011, she graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in journalism. She now resides in San Francisco, where she’s experimented with multiple writing styles, from stand-up comedy to personal essay. Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susannah.chovnick